Senior Associate Bill Turner hit the ground running in Kazakhstan from October 31 – November 6, visiting six international schools. His goal: to report on the quality of life for international teachers there. Before you ask—Kazakhstan borders Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and, in terms of acreage, is the 9th largest country in the world. Bill is happy to say,
"Kazakhstan offers you a unique and fascinating overseas experience. There are good schools, good opportunities for career development, good packages, and the chance to engage with a unique part of the world."
Kazakhstani people are friendly and welcoming. Teachers say they feel very safe in Kazakhstan and mix easily with the local population. Russian is not so difficult for English speakers to learn--probably easier than Arabic or Thai--and Bill learned that if you master a little Russian, you will have friends for life! Many teachers take the opportunity to learn Russian, and some are even learning Kazakh. Though Russian remains the lingua Franca, a campaign to promote the Kazakh language, with bilingual signage and classes in schools, is making great headway.
The scenery is incredibly dramatic! The wide open steppes of the Astana region and huge mountain backdrop of the Almaty region make photography a popular pastime. Astana, the new, purpose-built capital, is easy to get around and boasts impressive showpiece architecture. Traveling southwards, you come to Almaty, the old capital, more European in feel, with tree-lined streets and small shops. Southwest of here you will discover the old Silk Road to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Winter sports opportunities abound, something to take advantage of in a long winter season. During the holidays, people enjoy short flights to places like Georgia and Armenia, or slightly longer ones to Dubai.
Six Kazakhstani schools, four in Almaty and two in Astana, are registered with Search Associates. They all use the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program or British curricula, with added elements of the national Kazakhstani curriculum. The school principals regularly recruit at the Dubai Fair, and they say that Kazakhstan often works best for teachers who have already had at least one other overseas experience and are looking for a something new. There is no age limit for work visas, unlike in many other countries, so this may be of interest to our more mature candidates! Bill's impression was that most teachers were either single, child-free, or parents of children in primary school—not secondary.
International schools and the English language are tremendously valued. Students come from supportive and engaged families and are well behaved. Because international schools are considered expensive and are usually selective, garnering a place in an international school is highly prized, and teachers well respected.
Kazakhstani schools, aware of the importance of professional development, invest well on behalf of their schools and staff. Workshops and training are delivered in-school and on-line, and, particularly in the case of the IB, teachers are sometimes sent overseas. All schools have developed systems of self-evaluation because at present no national ministry of education inspections exist. Some schools are members of larger, international organizations, which carry out authorization and inspection visits, for example, ESOL, IB and QIS and accreditation bodies, such as CIS, ISSI and NEASC.
The Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools play an additional role in the school community by developing the skills of the indigenous teachers. International teachers will be expected, in addition to teaching their students, to coach local teachers in their subject area. This significant and extensive program is moving the country toward self-sufficiency in education and can be greatly rewarding to those interested in mentoring.
The teachers Bill met said they have an opportunity to save a lot of money. Accommodation is good, and in some cases, on site. Utility bills are usually paid for by the schools. Pay is in U.S. dollars, and schools pay the tax on behalf of international teachers. Finally, the cost of living is low.
We hope you consider the above aspects if you are considering teaching or travel in Kazakhstan. The better the details that our Associates—epic travelers, veteran educators, and administrators-- can provide, the more informed decisions our candidates can make. One aspect mentioned above could be the very thing that makes you say, "Oh, no—not the place for me" or "Yes, that's exactly what I want."